Frequently Asked Questions when using UDL guidelines and checkpoints

Adapted from CAST & pcua.ca 

The following questions have been noted by professionals concerning the implementation of UDL. Answers to these questions are provided, however they are by no means exhaustive. Should you have any questions that do not appear on this list, please feel free send them to us.

1. Will implementing UDL create more work for me?  

In general, implementing UDL will create more work when planning courses in the beginning. However, once instructors are comfortable and familiar with UDL principles and tools, this time lessens. As multiple means of representation, expression and action as well as representation are applied, this will save time with students in the long-term as information is made available in multiple and frequent formats.

2. Does using UDL in my course lower the level of academic rigor?

UDL does not replace regular program, course and assessment objectives. UDL practices simply support the use of multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression and multiple means of engagement to support all learners in meeting these objectives.  UDL can also help unearth new talent by promoting access to students who could, in other cases, be excluded. It may be argued that academic rigour increases, as students are expected to express materials in multiple ways, limiting options for memorization and increasing the likelihood of deep learning.

3. Is UDL done only using technology?

It is true that technology can effectively support learning in today’s classroom and can play an important role in the implementation of UDL.  However in order to support UDL and apply it effectively, technology is not a requirement if it is not available. Instructors can still support student learning with no-tech or low-tech options as UDL classrooms focus on flexible learning methods to support learning not just technological ones. The following resources provide some low/no tech UDL classroom options: 

1. Example of a Technology-less lesson by Rose, Gravel, & Domings (2010)

2. Technology-less options according to UDL principles by Prince George County Public Schools

However, it is important to note that applying UDL through the use of technology does significantly support the implementation and conceptualization of UDL, particularly in a world where technology has become an every-day option for past-time activities and main tool for seeking and receiving information (UDL and Technology, 2014).

4. Does UDL involve changing our teaching methods?

This depends on the individual. In most cases, instructors who decide to apply UDL in their courses are not starting from scratch as they are likely already using several methods and approaches to teaching thereby promoting accessibility inspired by inclusive education principles common to UDL. However, it can be noted that the more aware a instructor becomes of their current methods, the more likely they can identify UDL aligned elements and slowly incorporate UDL practices to other areas of his or her instruction. Whether changes in methodology occur based on this process, will depend on each individual instructor.

5. What should I do to ensure that my assessments fall within the UDL framework?

Assessments serve to test, support and develop knowledge, abilities and skills. Therefore it is important to remove barriers that take focus from the set objectives being assessed. Before designing your assessment, review what your overall goals it (i.e. what objectives are you intending to assess? What do you want your students to learn?), then review the three 3 principles of UDL to guide the development of your assessments:

1. Multiple Means of Engagement

Why are students learning this? Some options to support this would be to: provide steps/review options leading up to the assessments to engage students and support them in feeling confident they will succeed on the evaluation; Provide options on assessments for students to choose from as this supports intrinsic motivation and allows different learners to choose the task that best suits their needs; Allow students to choose an engagement format with the assessment (ex. Can they write? Draw? Make a chart? Record an answer orally?).

2. Multiple Means of Action and Expression

How will students learn this information? Allow students to work with information in various ways in order to support learning. In this case it is very important to remember specifically what you are hoping to assess as often there are barriers students face that can distract from the objectives being measured. Tools like graphic organizers, concept mapping, writing, speaking/presenting, multimedia options, case studies, demonstrations or physically constructing models may be good options.

3. Multiple means of Representation

What will students learn? This refers to how you will present your information/assessment to students and making sure the connection between the representation and objectives being measured is clear. Will your assessment support visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile learners? Options for assessments include charts, images, text, models, objects that can be physically manipulated or handled, videos etc.  

More support on developing assessments within the UDL framework as well as concrete examples for specific subjects you can be viewed here: UDL On Campus.

6. How do I help students meet deadlines?

This is a big question, as it not only refers to deadlines, but how students manage their studies in general. Given the dramatic shift in student responsibility from High School to CEGEP and the fact that executive function skills (planning, anticipating, setting goals, strategically meeting obligations etc.) are still developing in the adolescent brain (Dahl, 2004) many students struggle to manage their studies effectively without the proper scaffolding.

In order to support students in developing their executive functions, including meeting their deadlines in respective courses, it would be beneficial to make the process explicit. Support students in understanding the overall goal of the course and clarify expectations. This should occur at the beginning of the term as well as throughout.

Concrete support tools could be: clearly developed course outlines with all dates and assessment descriptions, class notes with key dates highlighted (both online and handouts, interactive with clear headings and well organized – if you want students to practice note-taking you can provide them with skeleton notes where they fill in the blanks during class), audio and or video recording of lectures, organizing the course into “units”, provide checklists and review packages, support the development of learning strategies by providing “tips” on managing readings, articles, research etc., provide examples and case studies and most importantly provide ongoing feedback to students.

7. How can I make learning as relevant as possible?

Students will usually perceive material as relevant if they can connect it to their own background knowledge and if they see value in it. This requires an awareness on the instructor’s part in knowing who his or her “audience is” (also aligns with Principle 1: Multiple Means of Engagement- support student motivation). Questions to consider are: Are students in this course because they chose it? Is this a required course? Does this course provide access to a long-term program students are interested in? Linking the answers to these questions in the early stages of the course will support student engagement and therefore make learning more relevant. Additionally, removing barriers that distract from attaining the targeted objectives in the course will make both teaching and learning more relevant. This suggests providing tools that support executive functions and giving students authentic tasks and examples as well as opportunities for choice in assessment topics/tasks and formats.

 8. What can I do to facilitate enough time for all students in formative or summative assessments and examinations? 

One solution may be to provide all students with additional time for assessments. If a class is 1.5 hours long, instructors may design their assessment to be 1 hour, however all students may take 1.5 hours to complete it. The additional time may benefit a variety of students (those for whom time limits creates anxiety, those who need to process language more slowly, students who may have some visual impairments or attention difficulties, second-language students etc.).

It is always important to consider if aspects of traditional testing environments such as being timed, memorization, and sitting quietly in a formal environment are all relevant aspects to the construct being evaluated.